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A win for Athens-Clarke County firefighters


By Mara Zuniga

City Hall was full of red shirts on April 4, 2023. Red was meant to demonstrate support for the Professional Firefighters of Athens-Clarke County. Red shirts were not only worn by firefighters, ex-firefighters, family members of firefighters but also community members who support the men and women of the Athens-Clarke County Fire Department. There were no hidden agendas, just people supporting other people with families, from our fire department.

Item 19 on the agenda called for a vote on the Fire Fighter’s Mediation Act. This vote would recognize the Professional Fire Fighters of Athens-Clarke County and allow them access to sit at the table with their “boss”, the local government. This is a very needed seat at the table as the firefighters are leaving Athens due to the many issues within the department that need to be addressed but are not.

My sources have told me that firefighters have reached out to commissioners within the last few weeks to explain the issues. Some commissioners have been available, and some were not. This is the reason, I for one was amazed to hear that some did not understand the issues or didn’t know fully know what was going on.

Mayor pro temp Ovita Thornton wanted to take a vote after countless speakers addressed the commission in support of recognizing the Professional Firefighters of Athens Clarke County. Surprisingly, Dexter Fisher who had been supported by the firefighters when he ran for commissioner, was the first one to motion a hold on the vote for a later time. When a second was requested, Commissioners Culpepper and Taylor both seconded at the same time for the same reason. However, it is my understanding that while Commissioner Taylor did not return the firefighter’s calls, Commissioner Culpepper, who was also supported by the Professional Firefighters in his campaign, did speak to them.

I have asked around and I don’t think information is unavailable as to what is at stake. In this controversy, it’s just politics once more with some commissioners.

The issue has been politicized so that it may appear as a black and white issue about unions, when in fact, this issue is more about firefighters having reached the end of their rope. After many years of struggling to be heard by the local government, they have simply run out of options for resolving ongoing department problems. It seems by reducing the issues to black and white, those with hidden agendas find it easier to obscure their intentions by creating divisions.

But, as Tuesday showed, there were folks from all walks of life supporting our brave men and women in the fire department.

The issue at hand is to resolve the problems in the Fire Department not a referendum on unions.

The request was clear, either come up with solutions to the ongoing problems or recognize the Professional Firefighters of Athens-Clarke County so they can have a seat at the table and deliver solutions.

Commissioner Hamby, a champion for the firefighters, stood strong that a solution must happen. He laid out some firm things he wanted to see happen despite push backs from other commissioners.

Carol Myers was touched by the bipartisan support that showed up plus she also believed a solution was possible. Despite seeming to be a “no”, Commissioner Davenport, appeared open to a possible solution. Allison Wright remained quiet thru the night just listening.

After much back and forth, I considered this a win for the Professional Firefighters of Athens-Clarke County despite the vote being held off until June 6, 2023. A win because the commissioners know they cannot keep putting this under the rug. They have to resolve the ongoing problems within the Fire Department, one way or another.

The actions and comments at this meeting provided me a clearer picture of which commissioners are for the people of this community and which commissioners are for those in power at the expense of the people they were elected to represent.


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